The Croatian-Hungarian Zrínyi family’s members belonged to the wealthiest aristocrats of the Habsburg-ruled Royal Hungary. Without their soldiers and castles, the Ottoman Empire may have devoured Austria during the 16th-17th centuries. Yet, the Habsburgs regarded them with suspicion and have denied the minimal support from their military actions.
Knowing the pre-history of Austrian-Hungarian relations since the Battle of Pressburg in 907 AD up to the taking of Vienna by King Matthias in 1485, I can understand the Habsburgs’ viewpoint.
Beginning from the early 17th century, the Emperor’s treasury was empty and the lands and the huge wealth of the Hungarian magnates were more needed than ever.
The confiscation of lands has soon led to the uprising of Prince Bocskay in 1604 which was settled in 1606 by the Treaty of Vienna, in favour of the victorious Hungarians.
For the time being, the Court had to restrain itself from suing the Hungarian nobles for “treason”.
In the second part of the 17th century, the Habsburgs have utterly convinced themselves that the Hungarian nobles should be deprived of their wealth so they would not have money to rebel. They disregarded the harsh reality, that these very nobles and landlords were the last supporters of the impoverished warriors of the borderland castles who were defending 1,500 kilometers of a war zone against the Turks.
There are countless letters which bear witness that the Emperor left these soldiers unpaid in average between 2 and 9 years payment. Hungarian and Croatian warriors got two Forints a month while a foreigner mercenary received between 5-15 Forints plus food.
On top of that, regarding the lay of the land in Hungary, these mercenaries were mostly useless in the only effective hit-and-run warfare against the Turks. It did not help their reputation either, that in most cases the mercenaries kept surrendering the Hungarian castles when they faced a superior enemy, like in 1552 at Temesvár castle.
It is also not surprising that the Austrian field-generals and officers developed a very negative attitude against the local soldiers and captains, hindering them as much as they could. Taking away their booty or disregarding their deeds in the battle, were common things to them. Not mentioning the damage these mercenaries have done in the villages and towns.
No wonder, that time to time the alienated Hungarian nobles got embittered and felt themselves caught between two pagans – the Turks and the Austrians – and they decided the Turks the less evil one. Hungarians always had to balance delicately between these two powers, as it can be seen in cases of Prince Bocskay, Prince Bethlen and finally Prince Thököly.
Unlike Bocskay, the Zrínyies were Catholics and more loyal to the Emperor, than many magnates – despite all the negative and hostile attitude of the Court.
Let us take a glimpse at some members of this family.
Count Miklós Zríny used to be a captain of the borderland who in cooperation with the other famous captains, was successfully blocking the Muslim expansion in the 16th century. Miklós Zrínyi was defending Vienna in 1529 against the Turks then he became “Bán” ( or Duke) of Croatia when he saved the Austrian army at Buda in 1542 with his 400 Croatian hussars. The same year he defeated the enemy at the lake Balaton at Somló, where the Turks had lost 3,000 men. His efforts were rewarded by King Ferdinand I, and Zrínyi never failed him. He heroically kept the lower part of the borderland and defeated another bigger Turkish army at Krupa castle in 1556. The same summer he had another major victory over the Ottomans at Babocsa. The king, seeing his success, stopped supporting him and Zrinyi resigned from his “Ban” function in 1557. That year he became the captain of Szigetvár castle. He defeated Bey Arszlan in 1562 who was destroying the Slavonian lands.
Seeing how the Austrian generals derive their help from him, he resigned from his captaincy in 1566. Yet, he hasn’t ceased his wars against the Turks: that very year he rushed to reinforce the besieged castle of Segesd where he scattered the enemy in a four-hour-long fight.
His final, and most heroic deed was the defense of Szigetvár castle, where he resisted the army of Sultan Suleiman the Great with his 2,500 people. He had been fighting against the 100,000 strong Turkish army for a full month, waiting for the reinforcement of King Maximilian II who was idly waiting with his 80,000 strong army at Győr, not very far from him. When Zrínyi’s men were forced into the burning inner castle, he led his remaining 300 warriors to a final charge and died in doing so.
We must talk about György Zrínyi (1599-1626), too. He was valiantly fighting for the Emperor in 1626 but General Wallenstein had him poisoned in his camp.
He left behind two orphans: Miklós Zrínyi and Péter Zrínyi. Miklós became an internationally famous general and he was also a poet. His deeds were as great as his great-grandfathers’. He was not only fighting against the Turks but also helped King Ferdinand III in the 30-Year-War. He had great success in 1651-52 in Croatia and in Hungary against the Muslims. Again, he was triumphant in the wars of 1663-64. His army ventured 240 km into the enemy’s territory in the winter of 1664 and he burnt the bridge of Eszék.
Though, his greatest adversary was General Montecuccoli who undermined all his efforts. Emperor Leopold I was not very supportive, either. When Leopold signed the Treaty of Vasvár, after the victory of Szentgotthárd in 1664, Zrínyi has got utterly disappointed because the treaty was very unfavourable. He withdrew himself to his castle and soon was killed in a hunting accident by a boar. Contemporary sources tell us it was rather an assassination.
His son, Ádám Zrínyi, was loyal to the Emperor and lost his life in the battle of Szalánkemén in 1691 against the Turks. Despite his heroic death, all his properties were confiscated from his widow.
Miklós Zrínyi’s younger brother, Péter, joined the plotting of disappointed Hungarian nobles, led by Wesselényi. The conspiration was revealed and he was beheaded in 1671. His immense lands have been taken, too. His wife was taken to Wurzburg but she arrived there half-mad and sick. Her escort wrote a letter to the Emperor to beg her at least a cook and a maidservant but even these were denied. It was the period when almost all the entire wealthy Hungarians of Upper Hungary were sued and ruined financially, too.
Péter had four children: two of his daughters were forced into a nunnery and wasted their lives near to starvation while Ilona, the third one was luckier. She later became the wife of Prince Thököly and she was also the mother of Ferenc Rákóczi, the great Prince who later led a war of independence against the Emperor between 1704-1711.
Péter Zrínyi had a son, too: János Antal, he became the soldier of the Emperor but was imprisoned for unreal accusations. He was rotting in prison for twenty years and got mad there, died in 1703. (He could have joined the rebelling Hungarians before these happened to him but he decided to remain loyal.)
This story with the Zrínyi family is just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless miserable stories which tell us about the damage done in Hungarian and Croatian lives by the greedy and uncaring Habsburgs.
Some Hungarian experts say the Ottoman Empire crippled Hungary less than the Holy Roman Empire.
Read more similar articles on facebook.com/hungarianturkishwars